Gale Lester Butler
- Mailing address:
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
- When and where were you born?
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, August, 1946
- When did you come to Mountain Lakes?
My family and I moved to Mountain Lakes when I was 4 and moved in to 35 Oak Lane home that my father, his father and a contractor friend built. Both my parents were from New Jersey. Kenneth S. Lester was from Pomptain Plains and Anne Adams Lester from Towaco.
- Tell us something about your family. Did your parents also live here?
See above. Both families were long-time New Jersey residents but not in Mountain Lakes.
- Where have you lived in the Borough? In which houses?
35 Oak Lane (across from the Club). That house was taken down to foundation, kept fireplace and stone wall and rebuilt to the quaker-style box house it is now. Have picture of original house and will send it. Trees were planted when I was about 6 or 7 in front yard. Our house was painted white with a red door.
- What do you remember particularly about the houses and properties where you lived?
Mountain Lakes is vivid to me. Most of the houses that are there now were there when I was a child growing up. We lived there until I was out of college (about 19 or so years). I remember the yards because they were big and fun to play in. Lots of trees to climb and big bushes to build forts in. I used to play with Jimmy Cianci whose house was on the boulevard but paralleled Oak Lane and we had a gang of kids including his sister Cathy, my next door neighbor on the same side of the street, Linda Sigman, another neighbor across the street, LInda Noweck, Barbara Phillips up the street next to the McEwans. To help you out, in the 1950s here are the people who lived on Oak Lane:
- (left side as you left the Club) Lester, Sigman, Jones, McEwans (sp?), Phillips, forget who was in big house on the end….
- (right side) Himmer, Noweck, Gustafson, Davis
- In the 60s, new houses were added between Jones and McEwans named Franz, and one at the end named Davis.
We had a woods that is still there behind our house and the house next to us had a double lot (now there’s a house on the corner of Lake Drive and Oak Lane) so we had lots of places to play (stick horses, army, the usual).
Houses: The older houses were 3 stories with dark wood and not many windows. They seemed huge and scarey to me as a child. Ours was more modern, wooden, long but only two stories, lots of light wood on the floors and lots of windows. Some of the houses way up on the hill like the Duckworths had 3 floors and were huge. The Duckworths had a back staircase to the kitchen, a dumb waiter rig we used to ride in, a big pantry where they locked up the sweet stuff from us kids. A really nice black couple, Mirandy and Jim, lived on the 3rd floor and worked the kitchen and yard and helped with the 5 or 6 kids they had. Big yard. Big veranda out back. Woods below. Great place to play.
Mountain Lakes in summer was wonderful for kids. Back then, you could actually swim in the Big Lake (what’s the problem these days???) and we did. Canoes, rowboats, sun and sailfishes all over the place. Swimming practice at Island Beach until Birchwood was built. Races on 4th of July were a big deal. Island Beach to the Club was the highlight along with the canoe tilt for the parents. The mayor, George Rose, would come out to the end of the catwalk in his lemon yellow linen pants, white bucks and tan linen jacket to start the festivities. Fireworks at night, everyone in canoes with lights all around the lake. Wondeful small town memories.
Mountain Lakes in winter was really active when the lake was frozen…we skated to friends houses and through the canal to Wildwood. Sleighrode down Glenn Road or the Golf Course by the hospital. Parents and kids would play ice hockey.
What do I remember about the properties? They were simple and very green. The yards were well-kept but full of ivy and grass with some flowers. Today, you have landscaping. Back then it was hit and miss. Mountain Lakes was a town for kids who liked to play outside (TV came in when I was about 10 so….).
- What are some of your special memories growing up in Mountain Lakes?
Some of my special memories are:
- playing with friends in woods, back yards, trees, riding bikes, swimming, canoeing, sleighriding, skating, active stuff.
- the smell of burning leaves on a saturday.
- the sound of the marching band practicing just before a football game and how excited that made us. We would start running toward the field through yards and woods to get there on time.
- riding in the back of the mailman’s pickup truck all day long with my friends. We’d get out when we felt like it and get back in when we met up with him down the road. No one told us not to.
- the sounds of summer that came in the open windows before air conditioning…the katydids were so loud from the woods and all the trees….
- when we were teenagers…the fun was mischief night…the night before Halloween when we’d meet at the bridge by the club and plan the night’s work. Egg throwing, toilet paper, shaving cream…pretty harmless.
- Summer days on Island Beach meeting friends and planning that night.
- the drive-in out on Route 46 where we’d go with at least two couples if not a trunkload most of the time.
- Lake parties when we were older in high school and college. Someone always wound up in the Lake.
- Pajama parties where we’d go into the valley to go corn stealing (sorry) and the farmer saw us and shot buckshot at us.
- the dairy queen in Denville was big deal.
- walking to the Boonton movie theater in the summer down the Boulevard.
- Walking in the Memorial Day Parade as a Brownie that went by my house and watching my father march in the color guard (he was proud that he could still wear his Army Air Corp uniform.
- Watching daddy who was the club tennis champ for years (look in the Club’s books) win his tournaments with everybody standing on the porch overlooking the tennis courts.
- the club shows that Daddy produced and wrote every year (we have some fun pictures) where Nancy Osterland sang “Cry Me a River” in a sequinned dress (she sang professionally when she was younger) and my parents friends danced and sang (some good some not so good). The parents had even more fun than the kids.
- High School dances and pep rallys. Senior Year with the motorcades when you went around and woke people up in their houses (that was an Orange and Blue team ritual…the girls would walk into boys houses and wake them up).
- hikes into the tourne with my father and my friends and camping out at the top.
- Where did you go to school? What particular memories do you have from your school years? Are there any special stories you associate with that time of your life?
Went to Lake Drive Elementary (right through yard next door) straight to the new high school when I was in 7th grade. Bad idea. We were in with seniors…they hated it and we were terrified.
- Where did you and your family shop?
We shopped at the Laurie Shop in Boonton, the Peg Merrick Shop in Dell’s Village, Bamburger’s in Morristown, and Macy’s for Wintercoats in New York. Later there was a Villager outlet somewhere nearby I think in Parsippany. Also, there was an open air market (Pine Hill Market?? something like that) in Parsippany that I can not remember the name of that had hanging pigs and chickens and ethnic food that was so exotic to me as a kid. Someone will know the name of that. It was out by the Barn Theatre on Rt. 46. Later, Wetsons, the precursor to McDonalds, went in out on Rt. 46 and we drove out there alot as teen agers. Paul’s diner was huge with us-big hot spot. Anne Wayne (the dress shop) of Denville we shopped in.
- What were the roads and the lakes like?
The roads had a lot of tar on them and in the summer it would melt and we’d make what we called “tarbabies” out of them. I now know that probably was politically incorrect but we were kids. The roads were windy and dark. The lakes were crystal clear with sunnies and turtles in them. The homes around the lakes were lovely with long lawns.
- Are there any special people you remember who contributed to the life of the town? Why do they stand out in your mind?
Bill Kogen was our swimming coach and a mentor and role model to many of us. If you’ll pardon the pride, my father because of tennis, was a role model to many. He had such decorum on the court. When we moved the club gave him a plaque that alluded to his good sportsmanship and how he had been a role model to the younger players throughout his time in Mountain Lakes. I have that actual plaque and can get the wording if anyone is interested. Coach Wilson was a very big deal to many of the boys who played football to him. Good person.
- What did you do for fun formal recreation, sports and entertainment in general?
See above…we also had horses we kept out a Papa and Granny Hughes’s stable out in the valley. Horse back riding was big and there was another stable called Swenson’s out in the valley where we rode and they had Jimcanas and horse shows.Cheerleading for little leagues was fun when we were about 10,11,12.
My family always had convertibles (old plymouth 1952, Black Plymouth Fury convertible 1957 was my first car, Red Camaro convertible, Triumph spitfire…) so we would go for drives in the country on the old road to Butler (where we kept one of our horses) because it was a really windy, up and down road with lots dips that made your stomach tighten. That was a big deal when we were little (no seatbelts of course…). Drove around Mountain Lakes ad nauseum when we were teenagers and we’d use the convertibles because you could be “seen”. We’d drive through Boonton in a convertible (a bunch of girls) and look at the boys we weren’t allowed to date…most parents wanted us to stay “in town”.
- Are there any special events that stand out in your mind?
As I said, 4th of July was a really big deal. All the club shows and dances were fun. Hub Lakes Swimming Meets where Mountain Lakes always swept everything it seemed. I still have a lot of the medals (breaststroke seemed to be my stroke as I’m tall). Swimming was what you did in the summer. Our lives surrounded the lakes and their activities.
- Did your parents and the parents of your friends work nearby? In New York or elsewhere? How did they get to work? How did commuting change over your time here?
My father worked in New York as a lot of fathers of my friends did at first, but then, luckily for us, he became Director of Sales and Marketing for AirCraft Radio, a division of Sessna, which was located out in the Valley right next to Freddy Weiss’ farm. Daddy was still a pilot and so we had the use of all the small planes and flew everywhere…sometimes just on a Sunday for fun, sometimes on a business trip with him and sometimes to Block Island for vacations.Great memories. Great job! He had a company car when he was with ARC but when he commuted he either used the train or walked to the bus stop at Lake Drive and Boulevard. It didn’t change – commuting – when I was there. Maybe more people drove their cars into New York or maybe they worked nearby as companies moved out to the suburbs
- How did various laws affect the way people lived?
One law prevented my parents from painting our house which was just built in 1950, bard red as they wanted to. So Daddy painted a bright red door in protest. We always had dogs and they were always running off the property and the police were always bringing them back. Daddy got sick of paying the fines especially when the police told Daddy that our dog jumped into the police car on his own. We gave Pierre, the Earl of Mountain Lakes away the next day.My father was Civil Air Defense Block Captain during the 50’s and i remember the helmet he kept in his closet. I guess if a bomb hit he’d run around the street getting everyone down in their cellars…don’t know but I know they had meetings.
- Did you have a sense of Mountain Lakes as a unique place in its lifestyle, its homes, as a community?
Mountain Lakes was absolutely unique in that it was a small town with people who, for the most part, were of similar backgrounds, worked at white collar jobs in New York and who, for the most part, were glad to be alive after World War II. Lots of parties that seemed pretty sophisticated for a small town. People got dressed up in high heels and cocktail dresses and went to the Club or someone’s home.Beyond that, it was also different in that even though it was a small town, due to the proximity to New York City, you had that sophistication with going to plays and concerts and events in New York. Most of us grew up thinking of New York as part of our experience. The homes were lovely and a notch above the towns around. You knew that but you didn’t talk about it. No one did. Never heard any sort of discrimination—ever. Even though I now know it was a pretty insular town. Mostly WASP, later some Catholics, finally the Sterns and the Margolis’ moved in on the Lake.
But as a child, you didn’t know it wasn’t the way the rest of the world was. It was just your home. It was a really fun place to grow up. And, as I said, I think the parents had as much fun as the kids.
- How did the world’s events — World War I, the Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the assassination of JFK, Viet Nam, Watergate, etc. — affect you and fellow Mountain Lakes residents when you were growing up?
My parents friends served in WWII. They knew the ones who didn’t, though, as I recall one conversation at one of my parent’s parties (they let me serve) about someone who had become wealthy during the war while others lost time in their careers. Funny how that conversation sticks out.I remember Billy Hill (son of the neighbor whose property was adjacent to us on the corner of Lake Drive and Oak Lane), then a teenager and a tennis player, ran over to Daddy who was cutting the lawn and was yellling about how the Korean War had ended and they hugged and patted each other on the back. Daddy then went to the Himmers to make sure they knew. Maybe TV wasn’t in yet?? Don’t know. But I remember that clearly.
I was a senior in high school 7th period history class when the loud speaker came on and told us about JFK’s assination. We watched TV all weekend. Everything was cancelled in town and at school. After that Martin Luther King’s assasination, the Viet Nam War, Johnson’s escalation of it, his stepping down, Bobby Kennedy’s death, it all gelled to make for a vary cynical, sort of angry view of the world. The innocence of childhood was gone overnight.
- What made living in Mountain Lakes special to you, as you think back over your life here?
The physical beauty, the small-towness of it, the intelligent, funny people, the sports, the proximity to New York, the lakes (when you could swim in them…), the Club, the friends. The way when you go back, it looks even more beautiful. Greener. Softer. Safer than the rest of the world somehow (even if it’s an illusion…).It was always a community and it could never change much as the houses were, for the most part, already in place and the yards were big. Unique is a good word for Mountain Lakes.